A brachial plexus injury is a trauma or other type of injury to a network or bundle of nerves known as the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus is a specific nerve network that communicates between the spinal cord and the shoulder, arm, and hand. These nerves can suffer damage or issues in different ways. The brachial plexus could be stretched, compressed, pinched, or torn or ripped.
There are different types of injuries or issues that can cause an injury to the brachial plexus. For example, a traumatic injury like a car accident or motorcycle accident or fall could lead a person to suffer brachial plexus injuries.
Contact sports are another common culprit of such injuries, though most of the time, these injuries are relatively minor in nature. Brachial plexus injuries can also occur during birth or as the result of inflammatory conditions, tumors, or other neurological conditions.
Generally, only one side of the body is affected by a brachial plexus injury. As such, when a person has a brachial plexus injury, they may feel a searing or burning pain that goes down one of their arms. They may also feel weakness or numbness in their arm. More severe injuries may also result in the inability to use the limb properly and can even cause full or partial paralysis of the arm.
Brachial plexus injuries occur when the shoulder is shoved down, and the neck is forced up and away from the injured shoulder. This type of damage can have differing levels of severity; the mild form is usually experienced for a few seconds to a few days, because the nerves were stretched or compressed beyond their limits.
More severe injuries are when the nerves get ruptured or torn, with the most serious being when the nerve root gets torn from the spinal cord. Newborns can have this condition if their birth was prolonged or difficult and adults get this condition when there is trauma, inflammation or tumors, or during radiation therapy. Athletes in contact sports can get a mild form of this condition during collisions with other players.
Sometimes, a brachial plexus injury can be resolved without surgery. This can include physical therapy and rest so that the brachial plexus can heal itself. However, oftentimes, such an injury requires surgery. Surgery can be performed to remove any scar tissue that forms as the nerves try to heal themselves. A nerve graft may also be a necessary surgical procedure. Nerve and muscle transfers may also be necessary with more severe brachial plexus injuries.
This injury isn’t easy to prevent because the cause is usually an accident or something you can’t control. To help avoid it, make sure you’re driving safely, as this helps prevent an injury due to a motor vehicle accident.
If you’re into sports, make sure you maintain proper body mechanics. Good movement contributes to preventing an accident that damages the nerves. Stretching will also help increase your flexibility, which will contribute to avoiding damage to the nerves.
If you get this injury or your child is born with it, moving the joint can prevent stiffness of the joint. This is particularly important with kids because the child can become permanently stiff if the joint stays still for too long.
Sometimes surgery is needed to repair the damaged area; sometimes the injury doesn’t need to be treated. The best option for recovery is physical therapy, to restore function and improve flexibility in the joint and stiff muscles. Babies often don’t need any treatment.